U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke recently about supporting democratic transitions at the sixth ministerial meeting of the Community of Democracies in Vilnius, Lithuania. Eighty-seven official delegations, including senior government leaders, civil society representatives, parliamentarians, young activists and the private sector attended the meeting, all with the shared goals of strengthening civil society and supporting emerging democracies.
Earlier this year, citizens across the Middle East and North Africa began to demand the same universal rights, dignity, and opportunity that Eastern and Central Europeans claimed two decades ago. Secretary Clinton maintained that all members of the Community of Democracies have a shared stake in their outcomes.
"We believe that established democracies have a special duty to help those that are emerging because these new democracies are fighting for their life. There are vicious autocrats clinging to power. There are interest groups pretending to support democracy, and only waiting until they can assume power. This is an hour of need, and every democracy should stand up and be counted."
Secretary Clinton said that "there is no playbook that we can pass on to those struggling to form their own democracies with a clear outline of the steps that can be taken and the results that will be assured, like a recipe in the kitchen." Every transition in every country in every era is unique. People in the Middle East and North Africa are, in many ways, navigating uncharted territory.
For all the differences, there are shared lessons. "We need to be sure we learn [these lessons] and apply them, to take that hard-earned wisdom and put it to work," Secretary Clinton said. "Because from Europe to Latin America to Africa to Asia, people have learned the fundamentals of successful democratic transitions: accountable institutions rooted in the rule of law; equal protection and participation for all citizens, especially women; a vibrant civil society; a free press; an independent judiciary and economic opportunity; integration into the international community and its norms and institutions; and leaders who understand that legitimacy flows from consent, not coercion."
Secretary Clinton concluded that we are up to the challenge of building new democracies, but it will take a community of democracies to succeed.